Jay DeFrates always knew he would be his own boss. “Ever since I had a lemonade stand, I’ve known that it’s better to be the guy selling the lemonade than the guy squeezing the lemons,” said the owner of Jay’s Plumbing & Sewer in Downers Grove, Ill. He’s had his own business since 2001, but his interest in plumbing began when he was a boy trailing after his handyman father and grandfather. “I was fascinated by it and I took right to it. You couldn’t get me away from it. It was like playing with Legos,” he said. That fascination has resulted in a growing business doing residential service work in the post-World War II suburbs of Chicago. Jay’s Plumbing has 13 employees, 10 vehicles and a lot of RIDGID® tools.


The RIDGID inventory includes:

  • 7 micro CA-25 digital inspection cameras
  • 4 NaviTrak® II locators
  • 2 K-7500 Drum Machines
  • 2 K-1500 Sectional Machines
  • 6 K-50 Sectional Machines
  • 2 SeeSnake® Standard Cameras
  • 1 SeeSnake® Mini Video Inspection System
  • 1 RP 330-B Press Tool with 1/2-2" press jaws
  • 1 Press Snap™ Soil Pipe Cutter
  • 1 Model 300 Power Drive Complete threading machine
  • Various aluminum pipe wrenches, power tools and battery chargers
DeFrates said he began buying RIDGID tools on the advice of older plumbers: “Everybody I ever asked said RIDGID is the best.” It’s advice he’s glad he’s followed. “RIDGID is tops with us,” DeFrates said. “I can’t say there’s been any equipment that has ever let me down. I still have all the RIDGID tools I’ve ever owned or I’ve given them to someone else who still has them in their toolbox.” The superior performance of the tools is backed by outstanding support, he said. “I think RIDGID does the best job of keeping us updated on our products and what’s new. Instead of having to hunt it down, they make it easy.” Jay’s Plumbing & Sewer could expand further, but DeFrates said he is careful to not let growth hurt the level of service. “The sky’s the limit when you’re the best, but you’ve got to keep a handle on it or the quality gets away from you,” he said.

DeFrates has several tips for other plumbers running their own businesses:
  • Keep people skills and character in mind when hiring. “You can train someone, but if you have to work with them every day you should make sure they’re a likeable person. Your customers will let you know real fast if you’ve got someone they don’t appreciate.”
  • Don’t assume customers are satisfied if you don’t hear from them. Every Jay Plumbing customer is mailed a prepaid survey postcard; everyone who mails it in gets a card for a free coffee. Ninety percent of the postcards are returned and that allows DeFrates to keep customers and identify problems. “You never want to lose a customer and you never want something undesirable going around about you and your team, so you try to fix it.”
  • Even if you don’t have much of a social media presence, monitoring Facebook and Yelp provides valuable feedback. “Through the internet, it’s very easy to see if you’re making people happy or not.”
  • Keep your workers happy. DeFrates makes it a point to celebrate employees’ birthdays and tries to keep things light. 
Jay’s Plumbing advertises in local newspapers and its trucks are wrapped, but the company relies largely on word-of-mouth referrals. It also takes advantage of its location on the main drag in Downers Grove with a sign out front that delivers an ever-changing lineup of plumbing jokes, such as “We’re No. 1 in the No. 2 Business,” “Free Plumbing Tomorrow” and “We Repair What Your Husband Fixed.” The sign is a community fixture and generates a lot of conversation with the public, DeFrates said.


Even as DeFrates enjoys the life hard work and plumbing have provided him, he’s worried that not enough young people are entering the trades. “They’re not dirty jobs; they’re high-paying technical jobs that will supply men and women with a good life,” he said.

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